Wider reading and twitter

At a meeting this week, we talked about ways to improve whole-school learning. There was discussion about developing a reading culture, which is something that has been difficult to establish in the past: there are so many demands on pupils’ time here that wider reading falls very low down the list of priorities for the majority.

This lack of wider reading is particularly noticeable in Y13, where some students have very little awareness of current affairs and show little inclination to open a newspaper. It definitely hits them when they’re doing BUSS4 in the legacy Business Studies course. I’ve been pondering ways to improve this, but have found few definite answers; finding out what other departments do is definitely on my development priority list.

I like the idea of having a departmental twitter account, and there are some excellent departmental accounts out there. However, twitter is blocked for pupils on the school network and I can’t guarantee that they will all have smart-phone access: there’s no point setting up and curating an account if pupils aren’t able to access it through official channels.

Things are about to change, though. School has invested in Firefly to replace the existing intranet. Firefly supports twitter feeds, so we can at last have a departmental twitter account that pupils can access. A colleague set one up last year, and I’ve comandeered it: I feel a spot of re-tweeting coming on!


Employee-owned businesses

Just doing some planning and found a couple of videos which might be useful to someone, especially if you’ve not taught mutuals before:

This one about Scott Bader (a chemicals multinational)

This one about John Lewis (who else?!)

Other examples of employee-owned businesses include Arup engineers and Make architects – they have stuff on their websites.

A tale of two trips

We’ve taken Y12 on two factory visits over the last few days. The Business Studies students went to the Land Rover factory in Solihull, and the Economics students went to Thorntons Chocolates. The focus of the Land Rover trip was operations, particularly lean manufacturing, and it included both a factory tour and some classroom-based activities. Having done this particularly trip several times, it has been fascinating watching the site develop: what was a car park during our first visit became a building site by the time of our second, and is now a fully operational assembly plant. We’ve always had the same tour guides, both very knowledgeable former employees who clearly care deeply about the business and how it has developed. In the classroom session we did an excellent activity based on kaizen and lean principles, and then had a go programming robotic arms: much trickier than it looks!

Thorntons is clearly a different scale business, and is a very nice ‘compare and contrast’ example for those who do both Business and Economics. A talk from one of their managers, covering changes to the strategy in response to external changes and falling profitability, was interesting (if a real stretch and challenge!), and then it was off to get booted’n’suited ready for the tour of the production facilities. The white work shoes raised eyebrows, as did the hairnets, but nowhere near as much as the blue beard snoods for those boys who hadn’t bothered shaving that morning! The tour guides are all current employees, which means that they know the business well, but the real highlight was the tasting station. Much better than at Land Rover!

Going on regular factory visits is something I think is very valuable, but the longer-term challenge will be working out how to fit them into the Programme of Learning: it makes sense to do them during the Operations section of the Y12 course, but this is scheduled very close to the legacy AS exams – it may be that a bit of creative timetabling is called for! We’ve also been to JCB which is excellent for strategy, growth and leadership (the old BUSS4 topics) but I think we’ll do that trip in Y13, even though leadership is now going to be a Y12 topic: there’s nothing wrong with a refresher! I’d be interested to know where other schools and colleges go and at what point during the school year – let me know in the comments.

Bringing the real world in

One of my gripes (as it were) with the current AQA Business specification is that three-quarters of the course is assessed using fictional businesses, and therefore students can study 75% of the course content without knowing anything about real businesses. Many of my Y13 students get a new burst of interest when we start studying the Unit 4 work – suddenly the subject is much more applicable to what they see happening around them.

The new AQA course doesn’t have any sort of pre-released research theme (and I generally think I’m glad about that, but only because of the way the current spec distorts pupils’ revision for BUSS4) but I really want to capture the ‘real world’ nature of the subject, right from the beginning of the two year course. Talking to colleagues in the department, it turns out that this is something we would all like. How best to do this? Firstly, we’re going to retain the use of ‘real’ examples whenever possible. I currently use diigo.com to save websites; by using ‘tags’ to classify the content of each webpage, I can easily find articles on specific subjects and keep my examples up to date. My challenge is working out how to do something similar on a department-wide scale: if we’re all saving websites throughout the year but can all access them at the appropriate times, then half of the ‘real world’ challenge will be sorted. I am unsure yet about the logistics of sharing bookmarks, but am hoping that a suitable method will become obvious!

The second way in which we’re going to bring the ‘real world’ in to the classroom is coupled with the ‘nothing new’ lessons in a previous post. Of the forty minutes in the lesson, half will be spent recapping earlier topics, and the other half will be dedicated to ‘business review’. Each time, an individual pupil (so as to avoid free-riders!) will give a presentation about a specific business. Businesses will be allocated at the beginning of the year and pupils will be encouraged to find out the following (as a minimum):

  • history (when established; key people over time)
  • current product range (and how it has changed)
  • current Chief Exec and leadership style
  • strategic direction
  • how the business has grown – organic or external? With whom? Why?
  • current financial performance (at least in terms of profitability)

The students can use visual aids if they wish, but I’m tempted to ban them from using words as part of a powerpoint/prezi – I’d like them to develop the skills of explaining ideas without simply reading from a screen. For those who need a bit more challenge, I’m tempted to ban notes too, so that they’re speaking from memory. That might be one step too far, so that may well change!

The presentation should last about five minutes, and I’d then like the presenter to choose a short, recent news or youtube clip about the business, which can follow their presentation. This should leave enough time for a brief question and answer session, or general questions by the teacher for the whole class to consider. Hopefully this way will bring a wider appreciation of real businesses into the classroom, right from the start of Y12. All I need to do now is choose a list of businesses!